2022-23 NFL Playoffs: 5 NFC Rookies Who Will Put Their Team Over The Top

Oct 16, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Rachaad White (29) runs the ball against Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Chris Wormley (bottom) and linebacker Alex Highsmith (56) during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Rachaad White (29) runs the ball against Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Chris Wormley (bottom) and linebacker Alex Highsmith (56) during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The NFC looked as unpredictable as ever entering the 2022 season, but thanks to the demise of the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers, things have become even more confusing than expected. Quarterback and head coaching usually make the difference in the NFL playoffs, but these five rookies could make all the difference in the NFC.

5 NFC Rookies Who Will Help Team In NFL Playoffs

1. Rachaad White, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Leonard Fournette looks like a shell of himself in 2022. The decimation of Tampa’s offensive line is largely to blame, but Fournette lacks the explosiveness he used to possess, making it tough to get momentum on his side as a ball carrier. To the Bucs’ credit, they have found a way to incorporate Fournette in the check-down game. However, there is a much better option already on the roster.

The 91st overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft took over for Fournette in week 10 following an injury to the veteran. In Fournette’s absence, White accumulated 105 rushing yards on 22 carries. In the next game, White assumed the starting role with Fournette still out and made a strong case to keep the top spot on the depth chart.

White recorded 109 all-purpose yards, including an astonishing nine receptions out of the backfield. The last two weeks have highlighted why I tabbed White as a potential fantasy football league winner and show why the Arizona State alum deserves to be the starter behind Tom Brady. White should be the feature back when the NFL playoffs come around, and with Tom Brady, do not count them out of winning the NFC.

2. Tyler Smith, OL, Dallas Cowboys

Let’s give the big men some love! The Dallas Cowboys selected Tyler Smith in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, leaving many NFL Draft pundits to criticize the pick, calling it a reach due to Smith’s rawness. While I disagreed with the reach sentiment, I still expected the Tulsa mauler to face a steep learning curve in the NFL.

Due to an untimely injury to stalwart left tackle Tyron Smith, the rookie kicked outside to the blindside rather than playing guard as was initially planned. While Tyler Smith has looked like a rookie in pass protection at times, he is an elite run blocker already.

Tyron Smith will return soon, which will subsequently move Tyler Smith to left guard. The first-year player should hold up better on the inside, cutting down on pressures allowed and his penalty tendencies. If the Smith duo performs the way I expect, the Cowboys’ offensive line will be even more dominant in the NFL playoffs.

3. Tariq Woolen, CB, Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks hit multiple home runs in the 2022 NFL Draft. Perhaps the most impressive of the bunch is fifth-round rookie Tariq Woolen. The former receiver-turned-cornerback at UTSA dropped jaws at the NFL Scouting Combine, but due to his rough edges in technique, Woolen plummeted down the draft board.

General manager John Schneider decided to take a swing on the 6-foot-4, 210-pound unicorn, and boy has it paid off for both sides. The Seahawks gained a day-one starter at cornerback at No. 153, and Woolen landed with an organization with a strong track record of developing late-round talent.

So far, Woolen has picked off five passes and recovered two fumbles. The ability to force turnovers and shut down half of the gridiron is a trait that only the best of the best possess. For the Cinderella Seahawks to find their way into the NFL playoffs, Woolen must continue playing at an All-Pro level.

Tariq Woolen is the top vote-getter at cornerback for the NFC Pro Bowl team, proving that he should have gone way earlier than he did. Now, 31 other teams must watch a superstar they all passed on multiple times.

4. Drake Jackson, EDGE, San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers did not have a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, but the front office landed a player with round-one upside. USC pass rusher Drake Jackson is ridiculously young at 21 years of age, but he is already making an impression on the Niners’ defense.

In the very limited time on the field, Jackson has flashed elite pass-rushing chops. Not only can Jackson bend the edge well and use his strength to move tackles off their spot, but he also has a knack for getting his hands in the passing lane. The former PAC-12 star has batted down four passes on the year while chipping in three sacks and five QB hits.

The Niners have become one of the favorites to go on a Super Bowl run from the wide-open NFC. Kyle Shanahan’s offense will put up points, but the defense must continue its dominant 2022 campaign. Allowing Drake Jackson more time on the field to harass opposing quarterbacks could be the final push this roster needs to reach the Promised Land.

5. Brian Robinson Jr., RB, Washington Commanders

Believe it or not, the Washington Commanders are a playoff team as of this writing. The entire NFC East has at least seven wins on the year, and it is anyone’s guess how the division will shake out. If the Commanders want to shock the world, they should lean on their rookie workhorse at running back.

Brian Robinson Jr. came off the board in the middle of the 2022 NFL Draft, but the Alabama product quickly earned the praise of his new coaching staff during offseason workouts. So much so that Robinson won the starting role; that is, before a near tragedy struck.

Robinson, a couple of weeks before opening day, was shot twice in an attempted carjacking. Luckily, Robinson survived, and justice was served to his attackers. The rookie rejoined his squad a few weeks into the season and has been a staple of the offense since.

Robinson’s efficiency leaves much to be desired, but much of this can be attributed to the lack of space created by the offensive line. Over the past three games, Robinson served as the feature back, accruing 248 yards on the ground, leading the Commanders on a three-game win streak. Quarterback play is likely to be shaky regardless of who is behind center, so Ron Rivera and Co. must utilize the run game to claim a coveted spot in the NFL playoffs.